What They Bought
Jacob Gleeson of The Tent Shop

It would be easy to assume a lot about The Tent Shop, a new online store run by the Vancouver-based artist Jacob Gleeson — namely, that it might be in the business of selling tents. Or, with its deadpan write-ups and roster of vintage ephemera, amateur art, and back-catalog pieces by artist friends, that the shop might be some Canadian version of Partners & Spade, and Gleeson a hyper-aware collector engaging in an art-world prank, à la Claes Oldenburg’s The Store (1961). In fact, neither is quite true. The shop’s name stems from its planned incarnation in the physical world: Gleeson intends to purchase a heavy-duty canvas tent in which he can randomly host events around Vancouver. And as for Gleeson, though he did a stint at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art + Design, he tends to view his new venture through the lens of an anthropologist more so than an artist or even a shopkeeper. “I started with the intention of showing these things together as much as wanting to sell them,” he says. “I’m drawn to the individual objects but something about putting them next to each other makes them even more interesting to me, which is why I leave things up on the site even after they’ve sold. The record of an object’s existence has as much value to me as the object itself.”

Gleeson’s interest in collecting and the nature of objects stretches all the way back to his days at art school, where he often used thrifting as a source of inspiration for his work. “I generally did photo and film stuff, but I eventually got into sculpture and installation, which led to collecting objects, which I’d then use as raw materials,” he says. So perhaps it makes sense that since graduation, nearly all of Gleeson’s projects have had a retail element; all of those amassed objects eventually had to end up somewhere. In the mid-2000s, burned out on openings and looking for something new, Gleeson ran into a friend who had purchased a building with an affordable storefront space. “It was weird, but Vancouver’s zoning laws demanded that it stay a grocery store,” remembers Gleeson. That limitation offered a sort of forced creativity, and Gleeson joined forces with his friend Gareth Moore to open St. George Marsh, a shop/gallery hybrid that included, among other things, vintage candies, a video rental, a garden, and nostalgic, stubby soda bottles, which the two sold as collector’s items. Gleeson went on to open two more collaborative retail ventures in the space.

The lease to that space has since expired, and if the rent weren’t so high elsewhere in Vancouver, Gleeson says he’d open a permanent spot in a heartbeat. But that’s why the idea for The Tent Shop was so palatable. “Online, it can be open 24 hours, 7 days a week, with no overhead other than a web fee. It’s more accessible than anything I’ve ever done.” His offerings include everything from ceramic sculptures to a black-framed, heart-shaped potato chip. “The retail element provides a familiar context to display things that other environments don’t,” Gleeson explains. “When you introduce articles that aren’t very ‘sell-able,’ it creates a kind of tension that I really enjoy: a challenge to instill value into something that wouldn’t normally be considered valuable.”

To find his stock, Gleeson scours thrift stores around Vancouver, but he also hits up his old art-school chums for older work that might be lying dormant in their studios or found objects they can donate to the cause. But he still downplays the art-world element to what he’s doing. “I don’t charge a commission,” he points out. “But even more, I think labeling something as art can sometimes cause a specific and limited interpretation, and maybe even take some fun out it.” Because at the end of the day, The Tent Shop is a hobby for Gleeson; he has a full-time job, so it ought to be something he enjoys. As such, he’s been using it as an excuse to reconnect with art-school friends with whom he lost touch, and to hone his writing chops. (A sample product description: “An old leather hockey glove with a nice color scheme. Would ideally suit a one-armed left-handed person…or someone who just likes old leather things. $20.” We were so charmed by the voice behind the shop, we gave Gleeson a selection of our favorite items and asked him to tell us the stories behind their provenance.

cork floats2

Cork floats, $30: "I found these at an estate sale store…guess an old fisherman died. Real cork is increasingly rare to see it seems, being substituted by synthetics. I remember seeing an actual cork tree for the first time when I was in Portugal and it really impressed me. I hadn’t realized at the time that cork is just a naturally occurring bark on a tree. They feel amazing to climb as well. I read that the bark actually protects the tree during forest fires!"

tower

Plastic sculpture, $40: "This was made by two guys I went to school with, Barry Doupe and Dennis Ha. Barry’s actually an animator, he makes these surreal drawings and he wanted to make them three-dimensional and use interesting materials, so they've been turning them into these plastic sculptures."

fire pot

Fire pot, $12: "My friend Mark found this and claims it’s a prop from The X-Files, which used to be filmed in Vancouver. I actually went to film school in the studio complex where it was shot and would see David Duchovny often. I remember walking into a bathroom stall as he was leaving and there was a paper cover on the toilet seat. I actually debated its value in my mind for awhile but eventually decided to leave it. Anyway the pot looks like an authentic pot used to transport fire embers."

roofless cabin

Roofless Cabin Painting, $40: "A suburban thrift-store find. I’m drawn to amateur painting; after my experience with art production and the art world, it's refreshing to see people with no training. The perspectives are sometimes off, and the brushstrokes unique but it often moves me more than something perfectly rendered. I also never took any drawing or painting, so that area doesn’t have any baggage. Not sure if this cabin was still being finished or the painting was still being finished, either way there’s no roof to be had. Seems like the artist pulled the plug on this one, which just adds to the pathos factor. There is something very endearing to me about abandoned creative efforts."

hockey glove

Hockey Glove, $20: "I like old worn leather things so I grab them when I come across them. I remember playing street hockey growing up because ice hockey was too expensive. Gloves were usually the only actual equipment worn unless you were a goalie. I have fond memories of the feel of well-worn hockey gloves, often the palms were covered in holes. I also recall chewing on the bits of leather sticking out (pretty gross, I guess). Anyway the best part about wearing hockey gloves is that you can drop ‘em and pretend to fight like real NHL’ers."

fish bat

Fish Bat, $40: "I made this to actually use as a fish bat but I liked the way it turned out and decided not to ‘soil’ it. I’d be fine if someone else used it though. It has a unique pattern on it made by worms which I thought was ironic/funny. If you’ve never had to club a fish you’re in for a visceral experience.

wallhanging_3

Wall Hanging, $1200: "Stunning hand woven wall hanging by my friend Anne Low. Will improve any wall in any space. The price might reflect her attachment to it. Make her an offer! (but don't tell her I said that.)"

crude tanker

Crude Tanker, $100: "I usually stare at the tankers for a while when I’m at the beach as they're sort of beautiful in a perverse way. They're these insanely huge hulking masses of steel that sit really high in the water, and they're impressive if you remove yourself from the fact that they're here for trade. I also collect driftwood sometimes because its free and unique wood. I liked the idea of making a folk art–type object inspired by an abnormal folk art subject. I created several of these for an art show and presented them on a table covered with a blue tarp and the tankers sitting the way they are normally sitting when anchored in the harbor. I was trying to sell them and remember someone told me it reminded them of the David Hammons snowball piece ‘Bliz-aard Ball Sale’ which I thought was nice."

bark suit

Bark Suit, $500: "The suit was part of a collection made by my friend Tabitha Osler during her studies at the Antwerp Fashion Academy. All of the bark was hand harvested, separated into thin layers and stitched together onto a fabric backing. It makes an interesting sound when it moves; it’s quite an experience to wear and more flexible than you’d think. There are also some amazing rawhide shoes she designed that go with the suit. They were handmade by a woman out of her shop in Nova Scotia. They are very stiff but if you moisten them they will mold to your feet!"

shell lion

Lion Figure, $25: "This figure is handmade in Africa from a Shell Oil can. Tin sculptures like this are found in many countries but this one is interesting to me given to Shell’s sordid history in the country. I recall years ago an NBA player protesting the companies exploits by refusing to sit in the team chairs as they had Shell logos on them. Impressively he stood for the whole game when he wasn’t on the court. I was conflicted about selling it but I had it for quite some time so it’s nice to pass it on."

abstract painting

Abstract Oil Painting II by the Brothers Delong, $40 "I’ve never actually met my friend Mark Delong’s brother Jeff, and for awhile I thought he didn’t exist and that Mark just used him as scapegoat in case the paintings sucked. But he’s real and the paintings don’t suck. I think it’s great when people collaborate with their family, can’t imagine doing it myself though."

jmarigomen-botan-02_1200

Colour photograph by Jennilee Marigomen, $200: Says Jennilee: “I took the photo in lower Mount Pleasant (Vancouver) as I happened to be passing by and saw this lone car in an empty parking lot. I guess the woman who owned the car couldn't find parking anywhere else so she parked under a massive bush. As I was taking photos of her car I got caught by it's owner! She was mad and I backed away slowly and told her I was taking a photo of the flowers in front of her car.”

handmade art book

Handmade Art Book, $35: "This book was produced by Berlin-based artist Michele Di Menna. She documents her performance works via poems and images into an interactive book of sorts. There are several confusing-in-a-good-way fold-outs that turn browsing through the book into a performance in itself. She also once did a performance at the mouth of an Italian volcano. What more do you want?"

fishing tackle

Flasher and Roe Necklace, $20: "I made this while I was learning to tie fishing flies. I had a collection of older lures and flashers from my Dad and just liked the way they look and move. They are easily disassembled and reworked so I was playing with that for fun. I also worked some fly tying materials into some of them…turns out I’m no jeweler, though, as you can plainly see."